Friday, 20 June 2014

In the footsteps of Miss Florence

Researching orchids take you to all manner of places.

My latest sojourn started in Massachusetts – and ended up in Jedburgh.

Young Smith College scholar Karen Yu has been working on a project that features the classic orchid illustrations of British illustrator Florence Woolward. She relates them to the college’s botanic garden’s own massive orchid collection.

You can see a short video called ‘The World of Orchids’ here, featuring some beautiful shots of exotic blooms and an interview with Karen herself, who is something of a fan.


I wanted to know more about Florence, but what a mystery! All I had were the dates of her birth and death, and the fact she was born in Belton. Then, a whiff of something intriguing. Apparently, a large collection of watercolours of orchids and fungi were recently discovered by the present Marquis of Lothian, who resides at Monteviot House in the Scottish borders, and identified as those painted by Florence Woolward.


It seems the elusive Miss Woolward was born in Hammersmith and was the daughter if Reverend Woolward, a stern, austere man. She lived most of her life in Belton, Lincolnshire and it was through family connections with the Talbot Sisters that she was commissioned by Schomberg, 9th Marquis to paint a series of orchids and fungi, thought to be found at Newbattle and Monteviot. 

She was neither trained as an artist nor a botanist but following her work for Schomberg she continued to use her artistic abilities at the Natural History museum until her death in 1936.

It seems that 60 of the paintings were chosen for reproduction in four volumes and six were further produced as a limited edition, individually numbered set complete with certificate of authenticity. 

This summer, there's a lecture by Steven Manning on the 'Life and Works of Florence Woolward' at Monteviot House, on Saturday, 16 August 2014 at 6pm. It cost £5 - email enquiries@monteviot.com for information. On Sunday, 17 August 2014 11am – 4.00pm, the Scottish and Northumbrian Orchid Society display of orchids with chance to purchase from orchid growers.

So, another orchid illustrator to add to my collection. Coincidentally, I shall be holidaying near Jedburgh this summer, so I report back.

By Pamela Kelt